European Union External Action

Video conference of Foreign Affairs Ministers: Opening remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference

Brussels, 22/04/2020 - 20:22, UNIQUE ID: 200422_15

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Good evening. Although the coronavirus and its implications are still high on our agenda, today’s discussion is already an indication that we are gradually returning to core foreign policy issues.

We started with brief exchanges on the current affairs regarding Libya, Turkey and Afghanistan.

On Libya, it is sad to say that the situation does not improve. Neither international appeals, nor the threat of the spread of coronavirus, have managed to stop the warring parties from fighting. The fighting continues and is even increasing.

We need to further increase our engagement with the most influential international actors and conflict parties, to agree on a humanitarian truce – this is needed to deal with the coronavirus, but not only because of that – and on a ceasefire – this is needed for a political process to start and the conflict to end.

We also addressed concerns of some Member States over the risk of increased migration flows. There will be no sustainable solution to migration challenges until we succeed in stabilising Libya. Unhappily, it is not yet for tomorrow.

In light of Turkey’s most recent actions related to drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, we reiterated unwavering solidarity and support to Cyprus and Greece. We will continue nevertheless our diplomatic engagement with Turkey to try to steer our relationship towards a cooperative and constructive approach.

On Afghanistan, we have discussing the situation where the country is in a political and military stalemate. The peace process is not advancing fast enough, although there have been some positive signs such as the first exchange of prisoners between the Taliban and the Afghan Government.

For our part, together with international and local partners, including Afghan civil society, the EU is calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, so that the country can face the current crisis.

After these three current business issues, I then provided updates to the colleagues of the Council on coronavirus-related issues.

First, repatriations: EU institutions and Member States managed to bring back home over half a million EU citizens. This is one the biggest successes in the fight against the coronavirus. We have made a lot of efforts and half a million of European tourists who were stranded around the world have come back home. We are still having to face the situation of about 90,000 more people, but our efforts will bring them back home in the next days.

We reconfirmed the determination to implement rapidly the so-called “Team Europe” package, in total €20 billion for the most vulnerable countries. We discussed in particular the possibility of setting up an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to deliver coronavirus related equipment and facilities and also to give a hand to the movement of humanitarian staff.

I talked with the responsible of the World Food Programme [Chief Executive, David Beasley], for example, and he told us that the breakdown of the logistical chains and the difficulties coming from closing borders and closing of transport activities are jeopardising the possibility that humanitarian help reaches some areas in some countries.

We are trying to start a Humanitarian Air Bridge. France has been proposing to be the first country to participate in it, but the Commission, through the means and tools that we have in our humanitarian activities, can provide this new form of help  to fight against the coronavirus.

This Humanitarian Air Bridge will be a visible expression of European solidarity. Together with the Commissioner in charge of Crisis Management [Janez Lenarčič], we will explore ways to take this forward.

We also raised the issue of communication, once again. Because we are strongly convinced that the visibility of our actions is essential. We have to take action and show that we do. At the same time, we will continue fighting disinformation.

We discussed also how to better support Ukraine and other countries of the Eastern Partnership in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Because the problems that were there before the pandemic are still there. Our message to them is clear: we will keep helping them in these challenging times.

We expressed clear support to President of Ukraine, [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. He has been making bold steps on reforms and conflict resolution. There has been significant progress on reforms, but there are still many obstacles and these efforts have to continue.

There was again strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea; support for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, the work of the Normandy format, and of the OSCE.

On the Eastern Partnership, the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers agreed that the current crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate that the EU is the most reliable partner for these countries. We have discussed how we can support them so that their economies, jobs and institutions do not suffer from this situation and that a drive for reforms remains high on our agenda.

The June Eastern Partnership Summit, which I except to be maintained, should be a good occasion to reaffirm the EU’s support to the region, but also to advance work on concrete areas of cooperation, sustainable economic growth and job creation, in line with the Eastern Partnership Joint Communication issued on the 18 March.

Finally, we also agreed that we need to continue addressing disinformation in the region, which is already a real battlefield of disinformation.

This was a summary of our discussions today through videoconference and now I am ready for your questions.

Thank you.


Link to the opening remarks: